No Biggar but Lawes set for a 'reunion' with Henderson in Belfast
Northampton have made six changes to their Champions Cup starting XV to take on Ulster on Friday with the absence of injured Lions No10 Dan Biggar and the return of his fellow 2021 tourist, England’s Courtney Lawes, catching the eye. The talisman from Wales played just 45 minutes of last weekend’s round one loss to Racing 92, hobbling off to be replaced by Rory Hutchinson.
With Biggar unable to shake off the injury, Northampton have chosen to hand the No10 jersey to George Furbank, last week’s starting full-back. Furbank’s spot at No15 will be filled by Ahsee Tuala, who will make his first start of the season.
The other Northampton changes see Ollie Sleightholme come onto the right wing for Tommy Freeman, Alex Waller is at loosehead for Nick Auterac, Mike Haywood at hooker for Sam Matavesi, Lions tourist Lawes is at blindside for Karl Wilkins while Tom Wood is the No8 in place of Juarno Augustus.
Ulster, meanwhile, have boosted their side with the return of their Lions tourist Iain Henderson, who is one of three changes to their XV following their round one win at Clermont. Prop Marty Moore and winger Craig Gilroy are the other changes for a match that will also feature newly arrived Springboks forward Duane Vermeulen at No8 following his away debut last weekend.
The prospect of Henderson going up against Lawes in the Ulster versus Northampton forwards battle has the potential to be spicy following remarks made by the Irishman about how his English rival was a Test starter on the Lions tour in South Africa. Not getting a run grated with Henderson, who singled out how Lawes was a favoured Warren Gatland pick despite his lack of pre-tour games in 2021.
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“A bit of evidence of that would be Courtney Lawes, for example. Hadn’t played a lot of rugby, was injured going in, missed a lot of rugby, comes in as a bit of a surprise maybe and starts all three Tests,” claimed Henderson when interviewed in September on BBC Sport Northern Ireland’s Ulster Rugby Show. “Don’t get me wrong, Courtney is a class player and he probably deserved to be playing.
“But that would lead you to believe that he [Gatland] wasn’t picking on who was on form at that stage because Courtney had already banked his form from before. He [Gatland] told me I had trained really well, played really well and it unfortunately just didn’t work out the way I wanted it to be… at the end of the day it’s the top dog’s decision and I wasn’t there.”
ULSTER: 15. Mike Lowry; 14. Craig Gilroy, 13. James Hume, 12. Stuart McCloskey, 11. Ethan McIlroy; 10. Billy Burns, 9. John Cooney; 1. Andrew Warwick, 2. Rob Herring, 3. Marty Moore, 4. Alan O’Connor, 5. Iain Henderson (capt), 6. Marcus Rea, 7. Nick Timoney, 8. Duane Vermeulen. Reps: 16. John Andrew, 17. Jack McGrath, 18. Tom O’Toole, 19. Kieran Treadwell, 20. Sam Carter, 21. Greg Jones, 22. Nathan Doak, 23. Stewart Moore.
NORTHAMPTON: 15. Ahsee Tuala; 14. Ollie Sleightholme, 13. Matt Proctor, 12. Fraser Dingwall, 11. Courtnall Skosan; 10. George Furbank, 9. Alex Mitchell; 1. Alex Waller, 2. Mike Haywood, 3. Ehren Painter, 4. David Ribbans, 5. Api Ratuniyarawa, 6. Courtney Lawes, 7. Lewis Ludlam (capt), 8. Tom Wood. Reps: 16. James Fish, 17. Emmanuel Iyogun, 18. Conor Carey, 19. Alex Coles, 20. Juarno Augustus, 21. Tom James, 22. James Grayson, 23. Rory Hutchinson.
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